Technical Writing vs Technical Writing
Hi, so I've been a technical writer for 4 years now, being in the space, I have noticed that when a client wants a Technical Writer for a job, it can mean a 100 different things all at the same time, For peeps that are just getting into the field or want to get started, this can be confusing.
So I thought it would make sense for me to discuss just what technical writing means and the different forms of technical writing there is.
Understanding Technical Writing (as a General Concept)
Before we go on to understand the forms of technical writing there are, we must first understand what technical writing is on its own, as a general concept,
From the name technical writing, we can probably guess right away, that it means writing about complex topics, or topics that would be considered "technical". The process involves communicating clearly and concisely to those who are interested in said topics, these people who are reading may or may not have a technical background depending on several situations.
Forms of Technical Writing
Now that we know in a general sense what technical writing is, it's time to niche down a little bit and know what forms of technical writing are there specifically, what they mean, and what roles are attributed to the forms of technical writing.
User Manuals: User manuals are a type of technical documentation that is specifically created to help the user know the ins and outs of a product, this can be a software or a hardware product of any type usually written by a technical writer who is familiar with the product.
Product Manuals: Product manuals are in-depth, guides on parts of a product, they are often created for physical products that need accurate descriptions for complicated parts and how they work together, and they often use illustrations and diagrams to accurately represent these products.
API Documentation: This part is a little tricky because it requires a little more technicality to properly document. APIs are commonly used by developers to communicate across systems al while transferring all sorts of data in a request-and-response format. API documentation exists because software engineers need to know all the parameters required, attributes, and what the response codes mean.
SDK documentation: An SDK simply means a software development kit and it's the tools required to build applications in a software ecosystem. A Technical writer is required to document the steps and the process that a developer looking to develop within the ecosystem should follow in great detail. A technical writer would be required to have some programming experience to be able to thrive in this field.
Technical articles are another form of technical writing, they are basically articles that talk about technical topics, like this one! Technical writing can also be broken down into listicles, how-to, guides, tutorials, and even handbooks.
Software engineers or writers with extensive programming/technical knowledge are the favorites when it comes to technical articles, and their works are mostly seen in blogs.
Different Technical Writers for Different Technical Writing
A Technical Writer is a slightly broad title, some technical writers do not have documentation experience as creating those requires a different set of skill sets to fully create.
Technical Writers who can create documentation are usually familiars with the docs-as-code workflow, and highly knowledgeable when it comes to XML, JSON, RST, and document operation tools like Antora, Docify.js Readme.io, GitBook, and more. They can also be called Documentation Engineers, Knowledge Managers, and similar.
Technical Writers who create technical articles, besides more programming experience, will need to understand SEO, keyword research, backlinks, and SEO-related tools like SEMrush, ahrefs for keyword research, and more. Technical Article writers need their article found whenever someone needs to find an answer or a solution to a specific problem. So these tools come in handy.
Can A Technical Writer Know It All?
Yes, A technical writer can be very well vast in all of these forms of technical writing. I'm a technical writer who has created and worked with almost all forms of technical writing including docs, and articles.
However, some technical writers are only comfortable with working with documentation, and the docs-as-code workflow with git and GitHub, while some are professional technical article writers who know all about creating pieces for software company blogs equipped with SEO knowledge and more.
Technical writing is a profession that's having a very tremendous growth over the years, as the career is shifting from a more dependent nature to more of a standalone career choice.
Obviously, as a technical writer, you have to be equipped with a technical background, that's what differentiates us from other types of writers, in the IT field, you should learn how to document with the required tools, learn about APIs, and markup languages, and programming experience will not hurt. If you're a software engineer looking to transition? even better.